Gamasutra's Best of 2014: Kris Graft's Top 5 Games
Look past the conflict in 2014, and you'll see an incredible amount of great games for all kinds of tastes.
That widening variance, and the sheer volume of games released these days, is why last year, Gamasutra started running individual staff members' top five favorite games they played during a given year.
I figure that by now, it's a bit disingenuous to pretend to come up with a "definitive" "Best Games 20XX" list when the fact is, there are so many games out there of all kinds that our small staff could never get around to playing all of the worthy titles out there, let alone agree which handful are "The Best."
That said, our small staff, naturally, played a whole lot of games this year, and we all have strong opinions about the ones we loved. We're not worrying about repeat entries -- theoretically, someone else could have the exact same list as I do.
Also, you even might see some games that came out last year -- we've got backlogs just like anyone else, and a great game doesn't stop being great once the calendar resets. There's also no restriction on Early Access games in our personal lists. For the most part, if something we played was one of the top five games we loved this year, it made our lists.
So here's my own Top 5 to kick things off, in no particular order.
Rust by Facepunch StudiosA lot of people won't "get" Rust. When you first log in to a server, you awaken -- you're born, really -- probably in the middle of a field, with a stone, some basic first aid, and a torch that hardly would last through the night.
The world of Rust doesn't wait for you or feel obliged to ease you in, and neither does its often ruthless inhabitants. It's like merging with heavy traffic: If you make a wrong move, you'll end up smashed up on the side of the road. Student drivers will end up in a mangled heap more often than more experienced drivers.
Rust, an Early Access game from Garry's Mod studio Facepunch, abandons preconceived, tailor-designed structure: quests, skill trees, narrative arcs, level designs, etc. are all out the window. Everything revolves around a straightforward crafting system and your ability to live and learn on Rust Island.
What Rust does provide is the foundation -- the crafting system and the island -- for players to build a social framework, to have experiences and interact with one another in a wilderness survival setting. Facepunch is a small team of developers, so creating framework and countless systems and producing endless content wasn't really an option. Just as Rust conforms to the way players play, it conforms to the way the developers develop.
As someone who doesn't typically play (or "get") "these kinds" of games, Rust has opened my eyes to virtues of emergent design in games with large groups of people. It's "missing" a lot of features we've come to expect in video games -- maps, morality meters, level design -- and it works wonderfully.
Samurai Gunn by TeknopantsMy enthusiasm for local multiplayer games was summed up this year in raucous four-player matches of Samurai Gunn, designed by Teknopants (aka Beau Blyth) and published by Maxistentialism.
While many seem to prefer the more deliberately-paced, power-up heavy Towerfall, it's the fast-paced, quick-reflex nature of Samurai Gunn that won me over when playing with other people. This game doesn't reward blinking; sometimes even the winner doesn't even know what just happened. Lucky kills often look like amazing skill shots, while your amazing skill shot will be alleged to be pure luck.
With one sword and three bullets per life, the game mechanic verbs here are plain and simple: run, shoot, jump, slash. Throw in three other players, a variety of levels, and a simple points system, and you've got what I consider the best local multiplayer game of the year.
Threes! by Asher Vollmer (and friends)For me, Threes! is one of those games where a session starts out as a distraction -- maybe you'll play it while binging on a Netflix series you've already seen a dozen times, glancing back and forth between your smartphone and the TV. But after a few lucky breaks with block placement, a few smart swipes, and as your score starts to build, your attention eventually turns wholly to these talking blocks.
The simplicity of Threes!, like many cool things, was hard-won. It took designer Asher Vollmer and graphic artist Greg Wohlwend over a year and many iterations (and lots of emails) to come to a game that conveys a second-to-second feeling of risk vs. reward (it's so satisfying when that new block slides in just where you need it; devastating when it doesn't), a perfect skill curve, and replayability that's limited only to your desire to keep trying to go for a high score. It seems like a "casual" game -- and to some degree it is -- but Threes! is also something you can get "good" at by learning what strategies work, and increasing your skill with the game.
Threes! is tactile, stylish, and imminently replayable. And the score by Jimmy Hinson will play in your head forever. It's mobile game perfection.
Titanfall by Respawn EntertainmentTitanfall has giant, awesomely-designed robots -- I'm not going to lie, that's what drew me in initially. But after playing it for hours (I initially played it on PC, then picked up the Xbox One version after it went on sale), you start to appreciate other aspects of the game.
First off, shooting in this game is so, so finely tuned, which makes it feel better than any other FPS out there, especially when compared to other controller-based FPS games. This is a benefit of the FPS heritage that resides at Respawn, which came out of Infinity Ward. It's just one of those things in game development that is highly technical, highly iterative in design, with the result being players saying "it feels perfect," without quite being able to pinpoint precisely why.
Movement in the game isn't quite Doom-fast, but the pace is quicker than many big-budget shooters out there. Add that to the finely-tuned shooting, the intuitive parkour system, and vertical level design you've already got a winning combination. Throw in some hulking robots and the cinematic touch that the dev team is known for, layer it with weapons and leveling systems that makes you want to play just one more round, and you've got one of the best games of the year.
As an added bonus, you can even play Threes! on your Xbox One while waiting for your Titan. Just find a good hiding spot.
1001 Spikes by Nicalis and 8bits Fanatics1001 Spikes is the most tightly-designed platformer that came out this year. There is little room for improvisation here, and the hand of the designer is obvious: "You will get through the level this way, and if you deviate from my intention by one pixel, or if your movement is off by a nanosecond, YOU ARE DEAD." Even with its two-button jumping feature, the designer is telling players, "You have two choices: Jump this high or this high." It approaches puzzle design, in that solving a problem requires a rather specific solution.
Lives (1001 to start) are the currency for learning each and every stage in 1001 Spikes, and learning this game costs a lot of that currency. Many people will be turned off by that, because, as anyone who's played this game knows, this game is very difficult. But is it sadistic? Are people who play it masochists, as reviewers like to say about these kinds of games?
Nah, 1001 Spikes is pure joy. Just remember that when you feel like breaking your controller in half.
What were your top games of the year?
The rest of the Gamasutra staff have their own thoughts on the topic. Read blog director Christian Nutt's list here, editor Alex Wawro's list here, senior contributing editor Brandon Sheffield's list here, UK editor Phill Cameron's here and editor-at-large Leigh Alexander's here.